'The little red schoolbook' was a subversive reference book for young people. First published in Denmark in 1969 it was soon translated into many languages and by 1972 it had become available in Australia and New Zealand where it was published by Alister Taylor who is remembered as 'developing a reputation as a publishing radical at the time'.
Looking about at Australian Government Cabinet Papers from 1972, on their release in 2003, journalist Tony Stephens found that 'The little red schoolbook' was only a little book, but cabinet spent a lot of time discussing it.
'Written by two Danish schoolteachers, the book devoted 20 of its 200 pages to sex and 30 to drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.' The rest dealt with examinations, teachers' duties, discipline, intelligence and different schools.
'It asked students to work within the system to achieve improvements, but some cabinet ministers thought it would undermine the system'.
The book was described by politicians as eroding the moral basis of Australia, and a handbook for juvenile revolution and anarchy, whose subversive nature endangered society.
Grace Cochrane donated her own rather battered copy of 'The little red schoolbook' to the Powerhouse after buying when it was first released in New Zealand in 1972. At the time she was working in the New Zealand Department of Health and no doubt wanted to keep up with what students were reading. Grace recalls that the book caused a stir in New Zealand and may even have had sales restricted or banned in some places.
The influence of 'The little red schoolbook' continues. After all these years it is still remembered and referred to, with fondness by those with left leanings, and with distaste by conservatives. For example, an editorial in The Australian newspaper criticizing the leftist media advises:
'Instead of thumbing endlessly through their well-loved copies of The Little Red Schoolbook and other counter-culture classics, old media in Australia could do with a shot of NYT self-correction. Discover the blogo-sphere. Listen to popular radio. Just get out in the world and cover the country in a "fuller way".
'That way they might stop missing the big social trends - another tell-tale sign of a media disconnected from its readership.'
And humorous columnist Richard Glover mentions it when fulminating about proposals to ban books advocating violence in terrorism-worried Australia:
'It's best if I admit my crime and come clean. I shall hand myself over to the authorities as soon as possible. Examining my bookshelves at home, I have located a copy of Marx's Das Kapital, a vinyl-covered edition of Mao's Little Red Book and a copy of The Little Red Schoolbook, all dating from the late '70s.
'It's true that the Marx and the Mao appear to be unread - the prose style having clearly defeated the teenage reader - but The Little Red Schoolbook has endured considerable attention. In particular the section about sex.
'I make these admissions since we seem set to ban any book which advocates violence, as all three of those titles do …'
Stephens, Tony, Release of 'subversive' book marks new moral chapter, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 January 2003, p.6.
Leftist media missed a turn to the right [editorial], The Australian, 18 May 2005
Glover, Richard, Buzz about very little drives the really dangerous bees underground, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July 2005
Cochrane, Grace, correspondence with Megan Hicks, curator of health and medicine, Powerhouse Museum, 1998-2005.